Intelligence Design: Putting the CIA’s Reported Reorganization in Context

January 7, 2015 Topic: Intelligence Region: United States

Intelligence Design: Putting the CIA’s Reported Reorganization in Context

"The CIA’s successful reorganization would be the most significant evidence yet that the intelligence reform effort, so often maligned, has succeeded at the place some thought it least likely..."

The current DNI, James R. Clapper, Jr., has doubled-down on this mission-centric approach.  He has defined leading “intelligence integration” as the “core mission” of the DNI. “Basically, intelligence integration means synchronizing collection, analysis, and counterintelligence so that they are fused—effectively operating as one team,” his office wrote in 2013.  To support this mission, Clapper went beyond the recommendations of the Robb-Silberman Commission and created over a dozenNational Intelligence Managers” on major regional areas (such as Iran, East Asia, and Africa) and functional areas (such as economics, counterproliferation, and counterterrorism). These managers are “responsible for end-to-end intelligence mission integration” and “serve as principal substantive advisors for intelligence” on their areas.  They also write “Unifying Intelligence Strategies” that aim to synchronize cross-community collection and analysis efforts against their targets.

Publicly, Clapper has railed against “silos” that segregate intelligence and argued for “integrated mission management” where “analytic activities identify intel gaps and provide guidance on what information they need collected.”

3.     Take-Aways:

Placed in this context, we see how the CIA’s move to break-down internal stovepipes between analysts and collectors and embrace a mission-focus approach is part of a much larger reform effort dating back at least a decade.  From this experience, at least four lessons can be drawn about large organizations that are often immune to change.

First, the experience with mission integration supports the conclusion of Warner and McDonald that intelligence “reform is possible when most of the key political and bureaucratic actors agree that something must change—even if they do not all agree on exactly what that change should be.”  In this case, after 9/11, nearly everyone agreed that intelligence effort needed to work better as a unit, even if exactly what the end result would look like was in doubt.

Second, the experience here gives credence to Max Weber’s observation that politics is the “strong and slow boring of hard boards.”  When it has come to realizing a mission-centered vision of intelligence, even when supported by major bureaucratic players, it has taken time (more than a decade), repetition (in terms of both bureaucratic initiatives and public exhortations), and steady effort (by commissions, directors, and officers throughout the Community).  In short, successful organizational change is not for the impatient.

Third, this “center-izing” initiative has benefited from the fact that the concept was validated on a relatively small scale.  The Counterterrorism Center at CIA and other intelligence centers essentially “beta tested” a merged analysis-collection model and earned laurels for their successes.  Ten years of war also allowed more of the Community to serve overseas on country teams where space constraints and the salience of the mission made agency and discipline identifications obsolete.  Integration and collaboration were the simple realities of life at home and abroad for many intelligence officers in the past decade, regardless of the larger bureaucratic machinations.  These ground-level experiences paved the way for the potential for large-scale change by altering the DNA of CIA officers.

Finally, while the idea of integrating collection and analysis has been preached from on high and the DNI developed the mission manager model, “center-ization” was not imposed on the CIA.  To the contrary, the CIA test drove collaboration—especially with regard to counterterrorism—and is coming to the recognition that it needs to apply the collaborative model broadly to its internal structure according to its own prerogatives.                                                                                               

It remains to be seen if the CIA’s restructuring will work.  Criticisms of intelligence reorganization—and the DNI in particular—abound.  For instance, former CIA official Paul R. Pillar enunciated a common critique when he wrote that the DNI “simply added one more level of bureaucracy” and that interagency cooperation could take place regardless of who sat atop the bureaucratic pyramid.  But what is striking about the proposed CIA reshuffle is that it shows that both Pillar and reform proponents may be correct: that the DNI can champion an integrated, mission-driven enterprise while the Agency, recognizing the value of collaboration from its own experience, adapts that vision to its distinctive ethos.


Indeed, the CIA’s successful reorganization would be the most significant evidence yet that the intelligence reform effort, so often maligned, has succeeded at the place some thought it least likely—at the “center” of American intelligence.

Matthew F. Ferraro (@MatthewFFerraro) is an attorney and former intelligence officer. He has held staff, policy, and operational positions with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA. The views expressed here are his own.